Mary Kitson Clark

Archaeologist of Roman Yorkshire
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The Independent Online

Anna Mary Hawthorn Kitson Clark, archaeologist and educationist: born Leeds, Yorkshire 14 May 1905; FSA 1938; married 1943 The Rev Derwas Chitty (died 1970; one daughter); died Llangwnadl, Gwynedd 1 February 2005.

Over a long life, Mary Kitson Clark witnessed the decline in influence of the amateur, independent scholar, and the rise of a professional class of archaeologist and historian. Yet her Gazetteer of Roman Remains in East Yorkshire, published in 1935, remains one of the starting points for any study of the Romans in the north of England.

From 1929 to 1943 Kitson Clark was Secretary of the Roman Antiquities Committee for Yorkshire (RACY). Founded in 1906, the committee played an important role in the changing perceptions of archaeology. Kitson Clark adhered all her life to the values of the RACY as outlined by Professor Francis Haverfield in a founding lecture: to encourage interdisciplinary studies at university level; to maintain high standards of bibliographic research and fieldwork, and to promote co- operation between amateur and professional. These ideals are as relevant today as they were a century ago.

Mary's father, Edwin Kitson Clark, was a classically educated locomotive engineer who worked at the Airedale Foundry in Leeds. He was present at the founding of the RACY and served as its Treasurer from 1923 to 1937. His historical interests were to be reflected in the career of his younger son, George Kitson Clark, the 19th-century historian.

The Kitson Clark family enjoyed the idyllic setting of Meanwoodside, a 17-acre estate in Leeds (now the city's Meanwood Park). Mary was born in 1905, and educated at home, then at Leeds Girls' High School and at Girton College, Cambridge, where she read for the History Tripos followed by a year of Archaeology. She then settled into a life helping catalyse and promote an understanding of the Romano-British occupation in northern England and beyond.

By the early 1920s the RACY was involved in increasingly important projects. Templeborough, probably the first large-scale rescue excavation on a Roman fort, had been excavated in advance of the building of a munitions factory near Rotherham in 1915. In 1923, a five-year campaign began at the Cawthorn Camps earthworks on the North York Moors; during 1924, the work was supervised by the youthful Ian Richmond. The signal stations at Scarborough and Filey, the defences of Roman Malton, Crambeck pottery kiln site and Langton Villa all followed under other excavators. R.G. Collingwood dug Bainbridge in Wensleydale with Professor J.P. Droop of Liverpool between 1926 and 1931. The Thirties saw investigations at Brough-on-Humber, Aldborough, and on Almondbury hill fort, Huddersfield. But the Second World War virtually extinguished activity.

By then, a great deal had already been achieved, almost all the committee's projects being published as monographs or in the journal literature. One of the most important outcomes of the period, however, was Kitson Clark's own Gazetteer.

Educational ideals and scholarly standards were almost in Mary Kitson Clark's genes. Her maternal grandfather was George Parker Bidder (famous in his childhood as "the Calculating Prodigy") and her mother, Georgina, was practically involved in promoting women's education. Her father could smooth the path with many a landowner otherwise coy about excavation; Mary kept the peace among the academics and both father and daughter seem to have been adept fund-raisers.

In 1928, she was elected to the Yorkshire Philosophical Society (YPS), then guardian of its own Yorkshire Museum, in York. Eventually the longest-lived Vice-President and member, she was only the second woman to gain full membership in a stuffy hierarchy. In 1941 she became unpaid, full-time Curator of Roman Antiquities. Helped by a band of loyal volunteers, under threat of bombing she supervised an evacuation of important artefacts, and catalogued the Roman collection.

From 1944, she nurtured co-operation between the YPS and the RACY through annual summer schools. Around 1950, these were adopted by the academic committee of the York Civic Trust. The Summer Schools directly spawned York's Institute of Advanced Architectural Studies, one of the two institutes on which York University was founded.

Admitted Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London in 1938, Mary Kitson Clark was proposed by a group of the most distinguished signatories. She also took an interest in developments abroad, and in 1929 joined Dorothy Garrod excavating palaeolithic sites in Palestine. There, in the Judaean desert, she met her future husband, Derwas Chitty, at his excavations on the monastery of St Euthymius. Marrying in 1943, they settled at Upton in Berkshire (now in Oxfordshire), where he was vicar.

Derwas Chitty, himself no mean scholar, had strong interests in early monasticism and leanings to Orthodoxy, publishing The Desert a City: an introduction to the study of Egyptian and Palestinian Monasticism under the Christian empire (1966). When he retired in 1968, they moved to Llangwnadl on the Lleyn Peninsula, almost within sight of Bardsey Island, a special place reputedly colonised by Celtic monks. Two years later, Derwas died suddenly, following a domestic accident. Mary was much comforted by her strong Christian beliefs, and by the great solace in music.

In 1985, a new generation of Romanists celebrated Mary Kitson Clark's lifelong commitment to Yorkshire with a conference in Leeds. Its proceedings became the basis of Recent Research in Roman Yorkshire: studies in honour of Mary Kitson Clark (Mrs Derwas Chitty) (1988). She accepted the accolade with characteristic grace, humility and surprise.

Her last project was to research and publish (as Mary Chitty) The Monks of Ynys Enlli. The first volume (500-1252 AD) appeared in 1992 but, owing to her declining health, the second (1252-1537) came only shortly after her 95th birthday in 2000. At its launch in Aberdaron Church, she spoke movingly to thank everyone who had helped complete the task.

C. Stephen Briggs